This M. Night Shyamalan film came out in 2002, and somehow I actually managed to see it in a theater. Then I didn't see it again until I got it on DVD in 2019. A lot has changed between then and now. Shyamalan has fallen out of favor and returned to favor. Mel Gibson was revealed to be bigoted in numerous ways. Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin grew up. The world has been invaded by aliens any number of times. But despite everything, this remains a fairly good movie.
Anyway... Gibson plays a former reverend named Graham Hess, who lost his faith in God six months ago, when his wife, Colleen, died. (She'd been out walking at night, when a driver, played by Shyamalan, fell asleep at the wheel and ran into her.) I guess now he's a farmer, because he lives next to a huge cornfield. He's raising a roughly 11-year-old son named Morgan (Culkin, looking very much like his brother Macaulay did at that age), who has asthma; and a roughly five-year-old daughter named Bo (a totally adorable Breslin), who has some kind of weird issue with not being able to finish a glass of water. Also, Graham's younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), started living with them after Colleen died, I guess. At the start of the movie, Morgan and Bo discover crop circles (or as they're called here, crop signs) in the cornfield. Soon after that, one of their dogs starts acting rabid, and has to be killed. And then at night, Graham spots a strange humanoid figure on the roof of, like, their barn, or something. A police officer named Caroline Paski comes to investigate all this. And at first, Graham is thinking it all might just be a prank some local kids are playing. But soon the news reports crop circles appearing all over the world. And soon after that, strange lights begin appearing in the sky all around the world.
Well, eventually the Hesses shut themselves in their house, boarding up the windows and doors. And then the aliens try to get in. And... I dunno what else to say. It's all reasonably frightening, I guess. But I still think the movie is more of a drama than sci-fi, and more of a psychological thriller than horror. In fact, mostly what it's about is a religious man who has completely lost his faith ultimately finding it, again. (As if calling the crop circles "signs" wasn't enough to justify the title, virtually everything that happens in the movie can be taken either as a coincidence or as a "sign" that there's some higher power at work. That question is actually the central theme of the movie.) Which is fine. I mean, a person of any religion finding their faith again, or even restoring faith in something non-religious, can make for decent stories. But it's hard for me, watching this now, to separate my idea of Gibson as an anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist ass, from the character he's playing, who may be none of those things (there's no way to know, since none of those issues come up in the movie). It's just that in recent years, those very qualities have been demonstrated by a great many so-called Christians in real life. And while I know many, many Christians aren't like that at all, so it's not really fair of me to ascribe those qualities Graham Hess... well, like I said, it's just hard not to think about it, because of who's playing him.
But none of that is the movie's fault. It's still a good movie, no matter what genre or genres you think of it as. All the characters are fairly interesting, and there's good drama and a surprising amount of humor, in addition to the scary bits. Other than that... I also wanted to mention that Xander had a line in an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that referenced this movie, which I enjoyed. (And it's kind of amazing that I had actually seen the movie before that episode aired, later in 2002.)